In the southeast of Iceland, you'll find a glacier lagoon filled with large chunks of ice. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its immense beauty. The lagoon is called Jökulsárlón, or Glacier's-River-Lagoon.
Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's natural crown jewels, and we've even started calling the nearby black beach our Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun.
Thousands of people are drawn to it, all year round, we have an incredible amount of stunning pictures of it and it's even Iceland's most popular filming location! So what is it exactly that makes this location so unique?
- Find Jökulsárlón Tours here
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon's location
The Jökulsárlón lagoon is right next to Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Vatnajökull and its surrounding area is Iceland's largest national park, and the second biggest national park in Europe, after Yugid Va in Russia.
There are only three national parks in Iceland, all very unlike each other. Jokulsarlon forms a part of Vatnajökull National Park, that is characterised by ice, glacier tongues, rugged highlands and lava landscape.
- Find out more about the glaciers in Iceland
The lagoon is formed naturally, from melted glacial water coming from the glacier and is getting bigger each year, as big blocks of ice crumble from the ever decreasing glacier into the lagoon.
Although the lake is becoming more impressive as it increases in size, it takes its toll on the glacier, visibly demonstrating the effects of global warming. That makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more special, since it will look different each and every time you go there due to the constant change of the Icelandic landscape. Each visit is unique.
The glacier tongue coming down into the lake is very close to the sea, and the lagoon is connected to the sea, the seawater also aiding to melt the ice from the glacier.
The chunks of ice that fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea, where the Atlantic waves crash on them at the black volcanic beach that's found there.
This black stretch of sand gets covered in translucent, compact ice that's thousands of years old that glistens in the sun, much like diamonds. This is how the beach has earned itself the nickname Diamond Beach.
Wildlife at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon and by the coastline, or relaxing on top of an iceberg floating in the lagoon. Iceland is also full of birdlife, especially during summer, so you may see the arctic tern and a number of other birds in the area.
This is not a popular area for puffins though, but if you are driving from Reykjavík you can stop by Dyrhólaey lighthouse and Reynisfjara beach on the way to see some puffins.
The drive along the south coast to Jokulsarlon is breathtakingly beautiful and it's worth it taking your time to get there.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon as a film location
A great number of films have been shot in Iceland, many of which you can read about in our article about movie locations in Iceland. This icy landscape has inspired many filmmakers to shoot there, and it's especially easy in the summertime as the weather may be quite warm but the surroundings look cold.
Besides the two James Bond films (Die Another Day and A View to a Kill) and Tomb Raider that were filmed at the icy lagoon, then Batman Begins and Interstellar were shot nearby at Svínafellsjökull glacier, inside Vatnajökull national park.
A number of commercials and music videos have also been shot at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, such as Bon Iver's Holocene, Justin Bieber's I'll Show You and the music video to Gerua from the Bollywood film Dilwali starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
How to get to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon?
You can drive yourself or go on a tour to the lagoon. If you are driving from Reykjavík, note that it's about a 5-6 hour very scenic drive to get there (so it will take you longer with all the stops you'll want to make on the way!). We therefore recommend taking at least 2 days in going there and back to Reykjavík.
The drive is not a boring one, as you will pass by some stunning scenery, including the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black beach of Reynisfjara, Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Eyjafjallajökull volcano - just to name a few natural attractions along the way.
As there are so many places to explore on the way, we have a number of self-drive suggested itineraries, such as this 6 day self drive tour of the south coast and the Golden Circle in summertime, and a similar 6 day winter drive, that also includes a visit to an ice cave.
If you have a shorter time, then there's also this 3 day winter drive, that also includes the ice cave or we can customise a self-drive plan for you. If you want to make your plan yourself, then we can help you to find a cheap but good rental car.
The lagoon is accessible all year round, although in winter it may be a little weather depending. If there's a snowstorm raging then you'd be advised not to drive in wintertime.
Most days you will be fine however. The roads along the south coast generally stay clear all year round and there is a bit of traffic so if you run into trouble then someone will stop by quickly and help you out!
The added bonus of travelling during wintertime is that you may catch the Northern Lights, so don't let winter weather stop you from exploring this gem of Iceland's nature! If you don't want to drive yourself then you can always book a tour to go there, such as this Christmas Season 3 day tour or this 2 day winter tour to Jökulsárlón with ice caving.
This 2 day tour to Jökulsárlón that includes glacier hiking is also available all year round.
Activities at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Boat tours operate in the summertime on the lagoon, between April and October. Indeed, they are the same boats as were used in Tomb Raider, that you can see in the clip above that supposedly takes place in Russia.
In the high season, July and August, there are up to 40 trips a day. You can choose between going on an amphibian boat tour that leaves multiple times a day or a Zodiac boat tour that has a fixed time schedule. Individuals don't need to book in advance for the amphibian boat tours but groups larger than 12 people will need to book.
The Zodiac tours can sell out so it's advised to book them in advance, they only operate between June and September. Find the Jökulsárlón boat tour here or if it is fully booked you can combine it with this glacier hike and boat tour.
In wintertime you can go ice caving from Jökulsárlón, in a natural blue ice cave within the Vatnajökull glacier. The ice caves form when the glacier is melting and rivers run underneath the ice, sculpting the ice into a tunnel.
Each cave is different from the next one and they vary in size and shape. What they all have in common is the incredible blue colour of the ice.
The ice caves are only accessible between November and March each year, and are very dependent on weather. If it's too warm then they may fill with water, melt or even collapse in places, so you should never enter an ice cave unless you're with a guide that knows the area and the cave well, and has deemed it safe to enter.
So it's likeliest that you can go when the weather is at its coldest, in January or February. You'll see a winter wonderland that's hard to find elsewhere!
Jökulsárlón is also a very popular place to try and catch the Northern Lights dancing above, as the scenery looks phenomenal with the auroras reflected in the water and the ice.
The Northern Lights occur all year round, but are only visible during the dark and can therefore not be seen in the summertime when the nights stay bright. From September until mid April is when you can see the Northern Lights in the sky, depending on a clear sky and how active they are.
Check out our 5 day winter package that includes the glacier lagoon, Northern Light hunts, the ice cave and more.
Where to stay at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
There are many options for accommodation around the glacier lagoon if you plan to stay in the area overnight. The two closest establishments are the Hali Country Hotel and the Gerði Guesthouse. Both of these are immersed in the countryside, and all the rooms come with private bathrooms.
Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is a four star, stylish hotel in the area, suiting those on a higher budget.
The Nónhamar Cabins are excellent for groups of four or less who prefer self-catering options and like to be surrounded by nature.
Vesturhús Guesthouse, meanwhile, has comfortable shared sleeping bag accommodation, perfect for those who are not willing or able to spend as much as the other places ask; the same applies for the HI Hostel Vagnsstaðir, which is just 30km away.
Hotels and hostels close to the lagoon, however, have the tendency to book up very early. If you aren't fortunate enough to get a room at one, then the second most convenient option is to stay at the nearby town of Höfn. If you were planning on travelling the ring-road, or wanted to finish your day in a place with a wealth of amenities, this is a preferential place to retire regardless.
Höfn also has a variety of different lodgings, to suit different budgets and styles. Hotel Höfn and Hotel Edda Höfn are two lovely hotels for those who prioritise comfort, while the HI Hostel Höfn is perfect for those who prioritise cost.
If you are seeking accommodation more in the nature, however, you may wish to stay at the Lambhús cottages, where you will have incredible views of Vatnajökull glacier. These are located less than halfway between the glacier lagoon and the town.
If you are travelling all around Iceland, and Jökulsárlón is just one place you plan on staying at, you may find this article on where to stay in Iceland useful.
What to be aware of at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
(Picture by Owen Hunt)
There's one main safety measure you should be aware of when you go to this ice lagoon. It should go without saying that it's not wise to go swimming in a lake full of enormous icebergs, or climbing on top of those icebergs - but somehow people are tempted to do so!
People sometimes underestimate the Icelandic nature and find themselves in dangerous situations, often needing the rescue of some of Iceland's search and rescue teams.
So don't be tempted to do what many film characters or singers do (such as James Bond, Shah Rukh Khan or Justin Bieber) and swim in the lake or climb on top of the icebergs! We're not just being boring by saying so, the current in the lagoon is very strong and can easily carry you out to sea if you venture a little too far swimming in the lagoon.
The lagoon is very deep, up to a couple of hundred meters deep and is in fact Iceland's deepest lake. What you see of the huge icebergs floating in the lagoon are literally just the tips of the icebergs, about 90% of the iceberg is underneath the water.
Sometimes the icebergs tip over, when the ice underneath the water surface has become smaller than what is seen above the surface (due to the ice cracking or melting).
If people are climbing on to the top of the ice and then the ice tips over, you might get caught underneath the ice and find yourself in a life threatening situation. That's not really worth a good picture. So just take care and enjoy this gorgeous location in Iceland!
Here you can read our list of other dumb things to do in Iceland.
- Find all Jökulsárlón tours available in Iceland here